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Steven Matz pitches well but done in by own pickoff move, botched sacrifice fly

Steven Matz of the Mets walks to the

Steven Matz of the Mets walks to the dugout after the seventh inning against the Cubs at Citi Field on Sunday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Steven Matz took the loss but earned something of a split decision on Sunday as the Mets fell to the Cubs, 2-0, at Citi Field. He kept the Mets close against Jon Lester, but Matz also played a negative role in the outcome.

Matz continues to improve in his fourth season with the Mets. In his last six starts, he has allowed eight earned runs in 31 innings for a 2.32 ERA. It was the first time he lasted seven innings since July 3, 2017, against the Nationals. For the season, he’s 2-4 with a 3.42 ERA.

“He’s been tremendous,’’ Mickey Callaway said. “He’s attacking the hitters. Great changeup. Better breaking ball probably than I’ve ever seen.’’

Another big change is Matz’s confidence.

“You can still see him thinking, ‘Oh, I gotta do my routine,’ ’’ Callaway said. “Once that becomes second nature for him, then he’s going to get more and more comfortable and he’s going to be able to pitch better and better.’’

Matz showed no effects of the left middle finger strain that caused him to be removed after three scoreless innings in his previous start.

He allowed only two hits through the first six innings before Javier Baez singled to start the seventh and went to third on a single by Willson Con treras. With Matz pitching from the stretch, Baez broke for home and scored easily when Matz somewhat leisurely threw to first on a pickoff attempt.

“I was kind of deliberate to first base,’’ Matz said. “I’m out of my stretch, so I don’t think he’s gonna steal home on me and, honestly, caught me off guard. Will I in the future know? Yeah, I’ll be a little more mindful of that throw over to first and just kind of look at him before I step on the mound and make sure he’s not shuffling down the line. I wasn’t thinking about it.’’

Said Callaway: “He’s lefty, so it really has to do with how hard he throws the ball over to first on his picks . . . give these baserunners a little more anxiety when they try to steal.’’

Matz allowed the second run on a sacrifice fly to second baseman Luis Guillorme in shallow rightfield with rightfielder Jay Bruce standing nearby. Bruce said he should have called off Guillorme, who made the catch with his back to the plate. He was not in the best position to make a throw home, and his throw wasn’t close as Contreras scored.

Bruce approached Matz after the inning. “He just kinda said, ‘Hey, I gotta come in harder’ and that was it,’’ Matz said. “He was just telling me I did a great job pitching, just keep going.’’

Matz was ready to put the loss behind him, saying: “I’m feeling good. I’m feeling like I got a good routine going right now. The main thing for me is just locating on both sides of the plate, going in and out and changing speeds. I’ve been able to do that here lately and it’s definitely been working for me.’’

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